Saturday, June 30, 2007


"But synthetic biology is a technique with potentially far-reaching consequences like environmental effects and misappropriation by terrorists."
"Scientists Transplant Genome of Bacteria" The New York Times. 29 June, 2007.
As the children I used to work with were inordinately fond of saying: "duh-hickey."

Here's a thought experiment. Remove the words "synthetic biology" from the above sentence and substitute "the storage of electricity in batteries," or "cellular telephony," or even "the use of fire." Is there really a significant technological advance that render that statement nonsensical?

Must we be reminded, every time a new technology is developed, that if we're careless with it, we could have a multi-year, multibillion dollar mess on our hands? Or that in the hands of the wrong people, it could be used to do harm? Do we really still have ANY expectation that someday someone will develop some whiz-bang technology that will be ONLY capable of helping people? All inovation involves a level of risk. While I can't claim to personally be the most imaginative person in the world, I'm pretty sure that given some research (or just the right people to ask questions of), I can come up with a way to make just about anything that Humanity has ever devised into a tool of death, destruction and/or environmental degradation unrivaled in your neighborhood. (Hey, it's best to start small, right?)

Perhaps even more annoying about statements such as the one that leads of this posting is that it also operates on another level, perhaps more honest that its literal reading - that of the fear of Science Run Amok. While there will be people who honestly worry about the environmental effects of synthetic biology, and a collection of paranoids whose job it will be to keep frothing religiofascists (and maybe even evangelopatriots) from using the technology to give us all a lethal case of the Sun Flu, you can bet that both of those causes will be co-opted by the next generation of Luddites - people who's main objection to technology is what it has always been - "Change is scary!"

So far, no technology has ever managed to completely de-legitimize segments of the population, rendering their marginalization or extermination morally necessary or correct. And with our modern ability to make the world smaller with global communications, interactions and relationships, the idea that anything will becomes even less and less likely (assuming one even holds that such an advance is possible). But bear in mind that the dissemination of information via a worldwide network of computers is a technique with potentially far-reaching consequences like environmental effects and misappropriation by terrorists. Just in case no one told you.

1 comment:

ben said...

As the plastic bags said in Epic Movie "Caution: keep away from really stupid people"